The five stages of grief are a furphy.

The group starts gathering at the 10am Understand Death Better session, August 3, Hunters Hill
The group starts gathering at the 10am Understand Death Better session, August 3, Hunters Hill

Yes, that’s right, the five stages of grief are a furphy. Even the person who’s first credited with thinking up this idea has said so.

And yet the idea of five stages of grief has taken hold of the popular imagination so effectively that it’s one of the most popular grief-related searches on the internet.

This is something we discussed at our two Good Grief! Understand Death Better discussions on August 3, in Hunters Hill. We had early hints from our hosts that this is what some people would want to discuss – and they were right.

So many questions – with answers we will explore more through these pages.

Once again, many people noted their biggest question and biggest fear. Questions and fears were about aloneness at death, pain, will my wishes be followed and grief. When concerns such as these are voiced, we can give people information that will help them face their fears and take the practical steps to increase their opportunity to have a good death.

At the first day time session we had thirty people. Nine attended the second session, in the evening. For this one we moved to a smaller room and shared a bottle of good red.

And going back to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

As a young researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross – considered the guru of grief and dying – suggested the set of descriptions I’ve described as a furphy, above. But later she told people she regretted the way they had been applied. It’s as though she found herself the victim of her own success.

The five stages she identified were: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

And they were really observations, which she thought would be helpful to describe the feelings mainly of those who had just found out they had a terminal illness. There is not a neat transition from one to the other of these emotions. You can experience one of those and stay with that emotion as you barter your way through life.

But somehow this got simplified – as though you go through these processes and then lock the gate.

This came as a surprise to the small group I worked with in Sydney this week.

They thought there were stages to go through, with a neat ending and we unpacked that, a process which I hope they will keep following until they understand it.

Helpful to this ‘unpacking’ is an article by Chris Hall, the CEO of Grief Australia, also known as the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.

To read Chris’s article – still as true today as when he wrote it in 2014, go to:

And it’s interesting to note the contemporary work which shows social networks rather than formal bereavement services can be helpful for us in managing our grief.

Join us in Hunter's Hill on August 3

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